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Study Shows That Oxytocin Isn’t Beneficial for Autism Patients

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According to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of New South Wales, in Australia, oxytocin, also known as the ‘trust hormone’, is not responsible for improving the symptoms of children suffering from autism spectrum disorders. The study will be published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. According to the lead author of the study, professor Mark Dadds, there are several previous studies that suggested a connection between oxytocin and the formation of psychosocial bonds. The studies suggested that the effect could be related to the powerful effects that oxytocin has on the activity of the brain.

Professor Dadds reports that many families with children suffering from autism spectrum disorders have purchased nasal sprays containing oxytocin and are already using the sprays on their children. Also, he adds that there are numerous clinical trials started worldwide. However, the effects of oxytocin on the formation of psychosocial bonds is limited. Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by an impairment in the children’s social and communication skills. Children suffering from autism also suffer from repetitive behavioral patterns.

In order to determine the suitability of oxytocin as a general treatment, Dadds and his team performed a controlled randomized clinical trial. There were 38 subjects ranging from 7 to 16 years old that participated in the clinical trial, all of them being previously diagnosed with autism. 19 of the subjects received oxytocin through the use of a nasal spray, over the course of 4 consecutive days. The results of the clinical trial show that oxytocin, when compared to placebo, does not have a significant beneficial effect on the health of the subjects. Researchers show that oxytocin did not improve the social skills, nor the emotional recognition capabilities of the subjects. Furthermore, the repetitive behavioral patterns remained unchanged.

The current study contradicts numerous precedent studies that report the positive effects of oxytocin on the patients’ repetitive behavioral patterns, emotional recognition capabilities and social memory. However, according to professor Dadds, the previous studies had a limited amount of subjects and were only evaluating the effects of single doses of oxytocin on specific behavioral patterns.

Professor Dadds affirms that the results of the current study show that physicians should be cautious when recommending oxytocin nasal sprays for children with autism. Two extensive medical assessments were conducted on the children before they were accepted in the study. During the period of the study, the subjects were tested three more times. Two more extensive medical assessments were conducted on the subjects, one immediately after the study was finished and a second one 3 months later. Multiple factors were observed, such as responsiveness, speech, warmth, repetitive behavioral patterns, parent eye contact, and the emotional recognition capabilities.

Previous studies have shown that oxytocin can increase the level of emotional awareness, trust and eye-gazing in healthy patients. Professor Dadds affirms that patients who suffer from autism might have their oxytocin receptors damaged, thus higher levels of oxytocin have little to no effect on them. However, Dadds does not infirm the possibility that a subgroup of patients suffering from autism could exist, on which oxytocin has a beneficial effect.